Planning your first visit to Beijing? We have a few quick tips to help prepare you for the trip.
When to Go: Beijing is lovely during the spring and fall, when temperatures are mild, crowds are (somewhat) smaller, and the city’s infamous smog is generally more manageable. Speaking of smog, it tends to peak during the winter. It’s best to avoid Beijing on and around National Day and, especially, Chinese New Year.
Getting Around: Beijing’s subway system is easy to navigate, especially since there’s English signage and train announcements. Very few taxi drivers and people on the street speak English, however, so it’s essential to have your destination written down or loaded on your smartphone’s map in Chinese. Carry your hotel’s business card, as well—all of them include the Chinese-language address.
Internet Access: You’ll have no trouble staying plugged in in Beijing, but note that there are government-imposed restrictions on certain sites, notably Google and Gmail. If it’s essential to have Gmail access, consider investing in a VPN (virtual private network) to bypass the firewall. Gmail access through regular servers comes and goes, but even when you can connect, it’s usually very slow.
Language: Staff at hotels, major attractions, and many bars and restaurants speak English, but the vast majority of locals, understandably, do not. Like in any non-English speaking foreign country, since you are the visitor, it’s up to you to try and bridge the language barrier, either by bringing a phrasebook or using a translation app.
Security Checks: Expect to be subject to security checks at attractions, subway entrances, and entryways to public areas. This is standard procedure in Beijing and nothing to be alarmed by. Note that cameras cannot be brought inside Chairman Mao Memorial Hall—if you have one, you’ll be asked to check it at a nearby building.